Settlement restores Idaho Power Peak Irrigation program
By John O’Connell
A settlement recently approved by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission has saved a program that awards credits to Idaho Power irrigators who shut off their pumps when there’s peak demand for electricity, though the farmers made significant concessions.
Credits to irrigators, who had received bill reductions of $24 per kilowatt-hour required to operate their pumps, will be reduced to $16. Idaho Power will also no longer be required to give them a full day of advanced notice before cutting their power, though growers who pump from a river will still be notified 3-4 hours beforehand.
The program’s duration will also be slightly reduced, now running from 2 to 9 p.m. June 15 through Aug. 15.
Idaho Power suspended the program this summer because its new Integrated Resource Plan predicted no peak capacity deficits until 2016.
The settlement — the result of five summer workshops — involved Idaho Power, the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association, PUC staff, Idaho Conservation League, Snake River Alliance and EnerNOC, Inc., which installs and maintains program equipment for Idaho Power.
Irrigators note keeping the program intact avoids future costs of restarting it when demand rises. Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin said the program prevents power loss through energy transmission and prolongs the need to build new peak power generation facilities.
“We’re pleased we were able to work with everybody and come up with what we think is a fair solution, and one that will be good not only for the participants but our customers in general,” Bowlin said.
The agreement also restores a program that pays customers to turn off air conditioners during peak hours.
Idaho Power invested $12.3 million in Irrigation Peak Rewards in 2012. Lynn Tominaga, executive director of Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association, estimates the new program will still save irrigators about 15 percent on their power bills. Tominaga said farmers enrolled 320 megawatts in the 2012 program — more than a third of total power use among Idaho irrigators.
Idaho Power is prohibited from cutting off irrigators for more than 40 hours per season and has agreed to only exceed 12 hours of curtailment in extreme emergencies. Growers would also receive incrementally higher credits for curtailments of more than 12 hours.
Tominaga emphasized power obtained by shutting off irrigators costs the company 4-5 cents per kilowatt, compared with 9-11 cents from a gas peak-power plant. He said removal of the 24-hour notice requirement should enable Idaho Power to shut off irrigators when energy is most needed and afford the company the flexibility to seek cheaper power on the open market.
Pingree grain farmer Craig Evans served on a group of farmers Tominaga formed to provide input on restructuring the program. Evans noted growers must invest in their infrastructure to benefit from participation. Evans rebuilt his own pumps to put out more water to compensate for shut-offs. He believes growers will eventually adjust to having less notice and lower payments.
“It’s better than it was last year, but not as good as it was the year before,” Evans said of the settlement.